Procrastination

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Yesterday, a woman I met on line sent an email to ask if I had any thoughts about her dilemma. She, like me, is in the final stages of a PhD but is much closer to finishing than me. She finds herself unhappy with her work – so close to the end but it no longer satisfies her.

I am aware of entering a similarly odd and negative space myself, one in which the thesis that I had imagined all those years ago – this wonderful book that I would write filled with extraordinary examples of how the desire for revenge has triggered creative writing – has become stuck. The ‘book’ although it is filling out, has lost most of its lustre.

It is not a book anyhow. PhDs are dressed up as books but they are not books in any conventional sense. There are too many requirements to mark a thesis as a book. It is one that no person other than an academic would want to read.

I want my book to be a ‘good read’. I want my book to grip my reader from go to whoa.

I now know that this is not to be, in part because as I said earlier there are requirements for a PhD that mean I have to include stuff – I call it stuff – that I would prefer to leave out. In this sense it is like being back at school preparing for final exams.

I have seen it with my daughters, all of whom write well. Often times I have made suggestions about ways of developing their work and they say:
‘You can’t be too creative. There are rules. You can’t just do as you please.’

I began my PhD in part to give me structure, to give me momentum, to give me community. It has done this in spades, but now as I approach the finishing straight I find I resent the constraints. Is this just an excuse?

In an earlier blog I wrote about Michael Leunig’s take on creativity. It applies here.

During the week my second daughter graduated at a ceremony held at the Melbourne
Convention Centre. In a sea of many coloured gowns, my daughter wore cherry red with white piping to signify her admission into a master’s degree in cultural heritage. It was a proud moment when her name was called and we could see her face on the screen overhead as she walked up to the chancellor, tipped her hat twice as instructed before she took her place on the stage with the ten others waiting for their share of the applause.

When the academic procession first marched into the convention centre and I watched the guard in black gown and hood, carry the mace in his thick-gloved hands, my eyes welled with tears.

I do not understand my sensitivity to certain rituals. It happens at my daughters’ school, too. When the procession starts up at the beginning of presentation night, when the academics and teachers line up in rows and march in their gowns, hoods and mortarboards into the assembly hall, I choke up. I am back in the church of my childhood, feeling the comfort of tradition wash over me, centuries old traditions that stir up some primitive longing.

Yet my cynical self baulks at this sentimentality.

I reckon we need rituals. They form the punctuation marks of our lives. They heighten our sense of what matters in life: the weddings, the funerals, the graduation ceremonies.

I did not bother to attend my own undergraduate ceremony over thirty years ago. I graduated in absentia. I thought I was too cool then to waste my time sitting around with a whole lot of fogies in academic gowns. Not for me, then. Now I look forward to the day of my floppy hat, but I have some hurdles to get over before then and these hurdles seem high, too high, perhaps.

I fancy I have taken to blogging as an act of avoidance: to assuage the loneliness of the road ahead, to comfort me in face of the task that stretches before me. I have to shape my thesis into a form that makes sense, that has narrative energy, and that does not include too much superfluous nonsense, does not repeat itself too often, and that holds meaning in a pointed and well articulated way.

I write about it here and I feel like a three-armed juggler with five balls who does not know how to use her third arm. I am awkward, at sixes and sevens, in a muddle and drowning under the weight of my wish to procrastinate.

Who wants to read this drivel? Some of my blog friends might, but they are not as demanding as the three people who will read and decide on the fate of my thesis.

Bloggers have expectations: to be entertained, to be moved, to be shocked, to be comforted, all manner of expectations, but academics have other expectations that are more hard boiled.

While I am stuck like this, my writing is stuck, circular and lumpy.

When I was young there were days when I sat around hour after hour in search of something idle to do, something that might occupy my mind, my fingers, and take up energy without taxing me.

Sitting in front of the television might have worked once but I gave up TV when I was twelve years old. One day As I scribbled the last of my history homework in my exercise book I considered what it would be like to take my time over my work. What it would be like to hand in neat and thoughtful work rather than this haphazard higgledy piggledy stuff I had just dragged out of the text book and my head that morning as I rattled along on the train to school. On such mornings I needed a seat. I could not do my homework standing up.

‘You must stop watching TV,’ I said to myself that day. ‘TV eats up time and does not help you to pass exams.’

It was as easy as that; to give up television, like giving up smoking, which I did ten years later, but which was not at all easy until I found I was pregnant. Somehow after that smoking did not matter one bit. Pregnancy took away all my desire for a cigarette.

What can I draw on now to drag me out of this appalling state of procrastination? Why do I resist that which was once so compelling? What perverse part of me has taken hold and insists I waste time writing drivel like this for my blog when I could in fact be editing and thinking about, considering the weightier subject of my thesis topic? Why have I become such a slug?

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54 Comments on Procrastination

  1. Bonnie, Original Art Studio
    May 1, 2010 at 12:34 am (7 years ago)

    Hi Elisabeth,

    Sometimes procrastination is a message rather than a statement about our character.

    I have to share with you that this is the second time where I have read an entire post, to find at the end that you consider the exercise 'drivel' or a waste of time … what does that say about the person who has just spent their valuable life energy reading it? Seems like a passive-aggressive (and not so passive) about the value of blogging to people who have come to know you and value your writing that way … Since we have the same profession I am hoping you are open to honest feedback. I said nothing the first time, but feel slighted at the suggestion bloggers are slugs.

    I will sign off as,

    'Perplexed'

    Reply
  2. lakeviewer
    May 1, 2010 at 12:42 am (7 years ago)

    "..why have I become a slug?" You are kidding, of course. You are suffering from senioritis, or last hurdle and then what syndrome. I had to kick my husband out of the house with an ultimatum: don't come back unless you have finished and defended your thesis. Finished and delivered!

    He too was dragging his feet: fear and anxiety will get you every time. Think of the actual achievement, the mark of honor you'll be wearing. Think of the journey so far. You did it. Now, get over this last hurdle the way you got over every one of those hurdles.

    Good luck to you.

    Reply
  3. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2010 at 12:56 am (7 years ago)

    Oh dear, Bonnie

    I don't think bloggers are slugs, I certainly don't think you are, nor in my usual state of mind do I consider myself one.

    I was writing into the heat of the moment.

    It's not the first time I've thought to leave a sentence out. It's not the first time that such a self-deprecating comment has attracted disdain.

    You'd think I'd learn to leave it out.

    But then you see I wrote this post from a troubled 'perverse' part of me that all too easily gets into a negative state of mind, which is not my usual state of mind and I think I wanted to take my readers along with me.

    Do you never feel this way yourself? This occasional stab of self-loathing that you want to share with others. It is only occasional but it is real.

    Had I left the sentence out I would not have had the opportunity to read your response here and maybe that's a good thing.

    As I said earlier, I equivocated briefly about leaving out that thought, that word – and given it is my final word in this post, I know it packs a punch – but I say to you now here as clearly as I can, it was not directed at my fellow bloggers, anymore than my go at academics here is actually directed at any 'real' people.

    It is intended to reflect a difficult and negative state of mind that I had wanted to share.

    But of course I know that my intentions do not matter so much as my reader's experience. And I must take your experience seriously.

    I'm sorry if I upset you. I did not want to do so.

    Perhaps others here might share your experience, in which case I might have to write another post to try to undo some of the damage done.

    As Paul John Eakin writes – and I've quoted often before -'autobiographers lead perilous lives'.

    Reply
  4. Bonnie, Original Art Studio
    May 1, 2010 at 1:11 am (7 years ago)

    Hey Elisabeth – thank you for addressing my concern. I appreciate and understand your explanation. You have not done any damage – as you were being honest and forthright about your state of mind (as was I) – and feel I have a better understanding with the explanation of your state of mind and intent.

    So on we go, doing our best to convey our feelings to people we admire and respect here in the blogosphere. It is sometimes a challenge not seeing facial expressions or hearing tone of voice to extract the precise intent and feeling tone of the words.

    Hope you resolve your inner conflict about your thesis. It takes so long it is no wonder that it is difficult to sustain interest and momentum. Good luck.

    Reply
  5. ALeks
    May 1, 2010 at 1:25 am (7 years ago)

    "I am a writer with an interest in the underpinnings of all things autobiographical. I’m keen to explore ideas about what drives the impulse to write, unconscious connections and the like. I’m interested in the text behind the text, embedded in the text and in readable theory in the area of so-called ‘life writing’ with its weave of fact and fiction. My blog’s a great place to start. Instantly I can see how hard it is to describe myself, when there are so many different selves to describe. So I settle in the first instance, for the easy one, the professional, the vaguely academic one, and then worry that I’ll put you all off. As well, I should add some pictures to lighten the text. In the fullness of time and with encouragement, I might."
    Elisabeth,
    These are your words written on your profile description and I must call you up on them.And tell you that not only academics read! The words you use like, perverse, in order to reflect on a difficult and negative state of mind I find totally misplaced but,hey who am I?
    We the readers,your blogy mates,are the mirrors in which you can find your face,if you are looking for it,just open up!! To think upfront instead of someone else is not only a sign of a person too focused on one aspect,one way of looking at things but almost insult on peoples intelligence.You are not a slug,not a pervert nor any of those horrible things you call yourself,you are the opposite of them!Girl,niet meer doen, :O)
    Groetjes Aleksandra

    Reply
  6. Ann Best
    May 1, 2010 at 1:28 am (7 years ago)

    I'm glad you found me and became a follower on my blog, and now I'm following you. I feel a reverberation of thought; a a kinship. For one thing, we both have children, though I'm sure mine are older. In reverse: I didn't stop watching TV when I was 12; I was 12 in 1952 when we GOT our first TV. You are struggling with a Ph.D. I watched and typed my husband's way through his Ph.D. many years ago. Very academic. When I went to graduate school, at age 42, to get an MFA in creative writing, I of course did a creative thesis. An autobiography. Life writing, memoir, autobiography, whatever you call it, is my favorite. It was a hasty and rather clumsily written thesis, but 20 years later, last fall, I looked back at it and turned it into the "novel" that is about to be published. Wonderful surprises!!

    Procrastination. We all do it. Easier, for example, to blog all day than sit down and write! But blogging has been a wonderful adventure. Being so housebound with my disabled daughter, this has given me an out – every day – meeting people sometimes from the other side of the world. It's exciting. It'll help keep me young!! Thank you. I'll be back.

    Reply
  7. Kass
    May 1, 2010 at 3:50 am (7 years ago)

    I have thought a lot about your thesis. It's what brought me to your blog from Jim's. This business of revenge. How can you fit revenge into strict academia? How can you be succinct and clinical and quote statistics and data to back up your claims? I'd be in a funk too. I've written two things fueled by revenge. A screenplay called "Trophies" and a stage play called "Unbearable Pleasure." They are both very rough and unfinished, but they were totally motivated by the need for revenge, the need to have my say. I wrote the screenplay pretty close to the truth of a situation and most critics mentioned that one particular character was just not believable because he was painted so black. "Everyone has some redeeming quality," teachers would say. "You've got to add in some humanity, or this just won't fly." And this is where I would get stuck. Now that I have years distancing me from actuality, I think I can fictionalize it more, but I do longer have the need for revenge. It's lost its fire.

    About this whole sluggy slug slug sluggishness business. Am I wrong to assume that what you've written for your PhD. is not the masterpiece you want to be known for? Isn't it just a means to an end? When you do finally write the novel or autobiography that's in you, won't it legitimize you to have the PhD. behind your name?

    Blogging is not an act of avoidance. It's keeping the fire stoked for the real stuff. The other, you just have to force yourself to do. It's a rite of passage. All those people, sitting up there in their ivory towers, leaning down and saying, "I did it, now you do it."

    If you can give up TV, you can conquer the world.

    Reply
  8. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2010 at 3:53 am (7 years ago)

    Bonnie's words reverberate here. In your second comment to this post Bonnie you write: 'So on we go, doing our best to convey our feelings to people we admire and respect here in the blogosphere. It is sometimes a challenge not seeing facial expressions or hearing tone of voice to extract the precise intent and feeling tone of the words.'

    I couldn't agree more.

    Thanks again Bonnie for making the effort to understand and Aleks, I must say again I was writing into a state of mind, not as a statement of fact, but as a deeply negative feeling that I struggle with from time to time.

    Perhaps it reflects one of my many personae. I'm sure we all have multiple sides and they can seem quite different depending on where we are and the self from whom we write.

    The trouble is that once something is written it tends to take on a solidity that it would not hold if the words were spoken.

    So thanks again, Bonnie and Aleks. You both seem have read my words as casting aspersions on my beloved fellow bloggers and it couldn't be further from my feeling.

    I suppose I consider that all bloggers are writers in one way or another, how much or little they write.

    Bloggers to me are like letter writers, even if our posts contain pictures, photos, paintings, images with few of written words.

    We send messages to one another and the most common medium is writing. I assume – probably unfairly – that people will read my post as a piece of writing that bears resonances but is not static.

    I seem to be continuing my post thoughts here and perhaps I should sit with it further before deciding how to respond to these concerns.

    In the meantime please do not feel insulted. I cannot abide online insults, unless they are directed towards oneself, in which case hopefully the writer knows what she's doing.

    Reply
  9. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2010 at 4:01 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Lakeviewer. I think you are close to the mark in your understanding. I think I am suffering what you describe as close to the last hurdle syndrome. And maybe like your husband I should just get on with it.

    Reply
  10. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2010 at 4:04 am (7 years ago)

    Ann, it's good to meet you here.

    Yours sounds like such an exciting story, your postgraduate work turned into a memoir. It's what I hope for one day. To turn my academic work into something more digestible for a wider audience.

    I look forward to reading more of your writing. Thanks.

    Reply
  11. Elisabeth
    May 1, 2010 at 5:27 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Kass. Mine is an unusual thesis topic and given that much of it is 'creative' and that I use my own experience and writing to make my point, it's not as ghastly as it might sound.

    This my most recent post has left me wondering yet again about the dangers of being too direct on line. I hadn't intended to upset anyone and when I find I have, I'm left with the awful sense of wanting to undo damage and regretting I spoke in the first place.

    As you say, it's 'About this whole sluggy slug slug sluggishness business.' I want to be able to convey one thing when I wind up conveying another it seems.

    I think you are right, blogging is not an act of avoidance, but I have not yet been able to work out for myself what it is for me. Clearly it means different things to different people.

    I write into my confusion and I fear I wind up even more confused. Ah well, I'll just have to get back to the drawing board. Thanks for the support, Kass. I value it immensely.

    Reply
  12. Ronda Laveen
    May 1, 2010 at 6:10 am (7 years ago)

    Sometimes I feel my blogging is avoidance of my other writing. But others, it helps when I am stuck on a big piece, to write something I can finish. Somehow, it gives my mind time to process and solve the problem of stickiness I am experienceing elsewhere.

    Reply
  13. steven
    May 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm (7 years ago)

    elisabeth – there's a place for multiple layers of discourse that allows for unpacking of all sorts – spiritual, emotional, cerebral – and while you could ascribe value in the usual pyramid that western thinkers do – placing the most valuable (the cerebral) at the top and the emotional at the bottom – i think it's actually more valable and challenging to meld them into one. they are what they are. avoidance? hmmmm. i think it's important to allow all forms of expression to coexist. blog, thesis, letters, whatever. examine the construct. dismantle it. move on. writing of any sort is a process that doesn't have to have an end. does it?

    Reply
  14. The Weaver of Grass
    May 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm (7 years ago)

    There was a time when I could have written this myself Elizabeth. What starts out as being the one thing one wishes to investigate and write about in depth, suddenly becomes a bit of a bore. I do agree with one of your comments which says it is a case of 'senioritis', maybe there is a bit of 'burn out' in there too – and maybe a sense that what is the point of all this? I felt just the same in very similar circumstances – but now, years later, I look back on it all with such pleasure and I know how much I have benefitted from all the research – my life is much fuller for it. Nil desperandum – you'll get it all in perspective eventually.
    And as for ritual making you tearful – I am glad it does – it shows you are a sensitive, thoughtful soul. Land of Hope and Glory – The National Anthem – The Queen riding by in her carriage – My grand-daughter's graduation – bucket loads of tears.

    Reply
  15. Tommaso Gervasutti
    May 1, 2010 at 6:12 pm (7 years ago)

    Intense post Elisabeth, yes we need rituals, from the evident, most exterior and public ones -like those you have described about University – to the most subtle, personal and hidden ones, those we often tell nobody about but which are the most important….
    maybe your procrastinating is one of these hidden rituals imposing itself in harmony with a part of your self you haven't come to terms with…but maybe I am talking about myself, I have postponing matters for ages….

    Thank you for your "voice" on my poems, I am very, very glad to regularly meet you when I click under "comments".

    Reply
  16. Kirk Jusko
    May 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm (7 years ago)

    Sometimes I ask myself, why am I blogging when I could be filling out that Pizza Hut application?

    That probably doesn't help you much, so trying reading this little tidbit that I snagged from Wikipedia:

    After the war, [Kurt] Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology…the university rejected his first thesis on the necessity of accounting for the similarities between Cubist painters and the leaders of late 19th Century Native American uprisings, saying it was "unprofessional."… The University of Chicago later accepted his novel Cat's Cradle as his thesis, citing its anthropological content, and awarded him the M.A. degree in 1971.

    Now, I don't expect you to put off a degree for 20 years like Vonnegut did, and, anyway, you're psycology, not anthropology. I'm just saying the professors might be more open-minded than you think.

    If not, well, you DO already have an audience.

    Reply
  17. Eryl Shields
    May 1, 2010 at 8:20 pm (7 years ago)

    How well I know how you feel, Elizabeth. Two months ago I was kicking myself for not working but unable to motivate myself in any way. Then as my deadline came into sharp focus I suddenly found myself working non stop: doing 30 hour shifts, barely stopping to eat or sleep, and it worked. I delivered my thesis on time and it seems to have pleased my examiners, so I'll graduate in July. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break. Remember A.S. Byatt's phrase: 'wool-gathering', it was you who shared that with me (us, really) and it's made a huge difference to the way I think about working as a writer. Perhaps your unconscious works to untangle the strands while you are blogging.

    There's nothing slug-like about you, but as I said I know how you feel and thus why you might have used such a term. Good luck with it.

    Reply
  18. Terresa
    May 1, 2010 at 8:37 pm (7 years ago)

    I am in parts slug, in parts ferretting writer, in parts nearly mother/wife/friend/sister/daughter. On a regular basis.

    I am trying to wean myself of my blogging appetite. It's worked, to a point. But I find it hard to turn away from the friendships and shared writing journey I have found in blogging.

    I don't have any pat solutions, only suggestions: setting a timer for how long you blog, or maybe a short day trip to give you a break from writing (blog and thesis both)?

    I do know this: the more I put off mopping my tile floors, the worse things get. Until one day (this usually happens once a month), I break down, mop the damned floors in 20 minutes, and then stand, stunned, at the result.

    The possible is there, if we only see it and move.

    Reply
  19. -K-
    May 1, 2010 at 11:32 pm (7 years ago)

    There's a lot to respond to here but I suppose the first thing that comes to mind it stop fighting the sentimentality. And if things were the other way around, I'd say stop fighting the cynicism. It's probably not something that you can circumvent or intellectualize your way around.

    Reply
  20. ALeks
    May 2, 2010 at 12:23 am (7 years ago)

    Hi dear Elisabeth,I just came again to check up on you and your progress in reflecting your concerns and read once more what is written till now.I do believe if someone is in doubt, or in certain state of mind which brings more doubt, troubled by high expectation of its own,insecure as a result of what I mention before,it is just natural and most needed thing to do,say those doubts out loud,write them down so you yourself can hear or read them,your thoughts! Only after that,after taking a distance of them you create a free space for yourself, you are in situation of ordering your thoughts and finally
    doing something more or less useful with them,writing a marvellous novel or autobiography for instance, :O)
    Ooo,I hope this make some sense to you and I hope you are not being too hard for yourself.Hugs and greetings from Holland and from me!! Doei!

    Reply
  21. Kath Lockett
    May 2, 2010 at 2:16 am (7 years ago)

    I've never come close to doing (or even considering) a PhD, but I know that my blog is my favourite form of procrastination.

    However, that's not its only function. Sometimes it might be the only 'real' writing (or thinking!) I do for that week. Sometimes it is my way of figuring out something, or placing a thought out into cyberspace and seeing if it resonates with anyone else.

    Blogs provide comments from people we may never meet and yet they add an extra dimension to our work and thoughts.

    You ain't a slug – to be writing something so major with such constraints sounds harder than anythign I can imagine. Hell, I procrastinate when all I've got due is a couple of 800-word interviews to submit!

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:04 am (7 years ago)

    I think I feel similarly, Ronda. Sometimes blogging feels to be a way of avoiding the task at hand and at other times it helps me to work my way up to that task.

    As I said earlier, despite the grumbles of my post, these things are not black and white. They're based on movable states of mind.

    Thanks, Ronda.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:11 am (7 years ago)

    Dear Steven. I suspect you're right – writing doesn't have to have an end, and yet the specter of academic admonition weighs heavily on me, even when it is only imagined, in fact I suspect it is very much imagined.

    But I've heard these terrible tales about for instance a student who lost marks for failing to put a full stop at the end of a footnote.

    It's ridiculous I know and I doubt very much that someone as pedantic and nitpicking as that would have access to my writing , but still it gets to me.

    And, yes, I know about that pyramid to which you refer. I try to meld these things too – the emotional, the intellectual – but somehow when I get into the heady intellectual writing that some people seem to want, I cannot bring myself to continue.

    Ah me. Thanks Steven for your gentle words here.

    All forms of writing have their place and should be able to co-exist comfortably, but it's not always easy for me to pace my way through.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:13 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Weaver. You give me courage. Perhaps if you can do it, if you can get there, then so can I.

    I shall try not to despair, though at times it's tempting. Mind you since I wrote yesterday's post I feel a tad better and I have managed to get a little something done today.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:17 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Davide, for commenting here.

    It's an interesting thought – the idea that my procrastinating can be seen as a sort of ritual that imposes itself, and disrupts the harmony of my multiple selves.

    I'm sure there's lots about myself that I do not recognise or understand. I suspect that none of us can ever get to the bottom of ourselves as others might, though on the other hand, we are probably the ones who best 'know' ourselves however distorted and blind that knowing might sometimes be.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:22 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Kirk. A heartening story from Wikipedia.

    What must it have been like for Vonnegut to have failed all those years ago and how vindicated he mus have been in 1971 when the book he perhaps valued ,more was recognised.

    I often think of Nietzsche. He was one of those 'enfant terribles' – a professor at an early age – but even he fell foul of the academy when he started to write his own ideas in a style and they did not fit in with the mainstream.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:26 am (7 years ago)

    Eryl, another provider of hope. I remember you writing in your blog a couple of months ago about your travails.

    It's good to know again that others can get their acts together as I must in the fullness of time.

    I think ,my little hissy fit here is in anticipation of the time when I will knuckle down. I still have time.

    I cannot leave things till the last minute, not things tat matter, so my panic now is like the panic of someone the day before the exam, when I still have two years to go.

    Thanks again, Eryl.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:44 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for your comment here, Terresa. As I type this one of our cats is sitting on the window ledge outside crying to be let in.

    To let her in through my window is a hassle as I will need to shift ornaments and curtains to unlock the window.

    She knows where the cat door is. She uses it daily but for some reason just now she wants to take the easy way out and get me to do the work of letting her in.

    Or maybe she's just looking for a bit of affection.

    I write this here because it reminds me of what you say about eventually succumbing and cleaning the floor.

    I imagine that I will limp along as I do for the rest of my life. I cannot imagine not blogging and I cannot imagine limiting it too much, as you say the friendships and the warmth we encounter in the blogosphere is very persuasive.

    So we muddle on. Thanks Terresa – mother, daughter, friend, lover, sister, blogger, writer, and mopper of floors.

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 8:54 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks -K-.

    I know I should stop putting up a fight against sentimentality, and all the other extremes of my emotions, including the cynicism that pops up occasionally.

    But it seems it's the way I'm wired, fired up, tuned up, fragmented. It's my style and my voice. I should stop apologising for that too but I am forever casting myself into what I imagine it's like in the the other person's shoes and yet I still get it wrong.

    Sometimes when one or other of us is in one of our worst episodes of self flagellation, you will hear me or my husband say:
    'Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa'.

    The expression even in Latin has a lovely resonance, doesn't it? Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievious fault.

    All this said tongue in cheek, -K-. I hope you realise. I'm not really such a masochist. Lapsed Catholic yes, full of angst and guilt, but I draw the line at 'masochism'.

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 9:05 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Aleks. I may have read you wrong. Are you saying that you think it's okay to write about our doubts and concerns as a starting point and then after we have put the writing aside for some time then reflect on what we have written.

    Are you saying that you think perhaps it is better not to put such writing on line?

    Perhaps it comes across as too troubling and too raw. I'm sorry if it is that way for you. As I wrote earlier to Bonnie, I did not want to upset anyone.

    There is an Australian writer, Helen Garner whose writing I admire very much. I am inclined to agree with her that:

    'Scour and scourge my motives as I may, consciousness always lags
    behind action—sometimes by years. Self-awareness is studded with blind spots. Writing, it seems, like the bringing up of children, can’t be done without causing damage.'

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    May 2, 2010 at 9:12 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Kath, for your kindness.

    It is a crazy task I have undertaken and entirely voluntarily. I do not need it for my job.

    As I tell people I am working at this thesis purely for pleasure. I think that's one reason why it is suddenly so daunting because I look ahead to some really hard work and the pleasure is diminished somewhat, though of course not entirely.

    I shall get there and I'm grateful for comments such as yours. They give me the courage to go on.

    You know what it's like, when you're feeling bad, you say to someone, 'Oh God, I'm such a jerk' and your friend says, 'No you're not, you're not a jerk.' In my case you say 'No you're not, you're not a slug.'

    Enough said. You reinforced what I knew to be the case in the first place. I just wanted some reassurance. And here in your comment and in others as well I have found it. Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  32. persiflage
    May 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm (7 years ago)

    To me it seems like a circling process, or that of an animal hunting prey. The doubts, the hesitations, the searching for words and structure while holding on to the concepts requiring explication and expansion, all seem integral to reaching the result. Sometimes the closer to the end, the more elusive the goal seems. I think any process, whether it be blog, discussion, writing other things, leisure, all have their place in directing one towards completion and satisfaction.
    Your thoughts on rituals and how they evoke emotions and, of course, memories are most interesting. There is a community of purpose, which binds people.
    I do hope you keep circling so that when you pounce, you don't miss.

    Reply
  33. A Cuban In London
    May 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm (7 years ago)

    I understand your dilemma. It's the eternal quandary of balancing the academic with the mundane. Language that might appeal to a tutor but not to a layperson. I slightly disagree with you daughter. There aren't many rules for creativity, that's why it fosters so much genius. 🙂

    Greetings from London.

    Reply
  34. Rachel Cotterill
    May 2, 2010 at 6:19 pm (7 years ago)

    I think it would be a very unusual person who got through the whole of a PhD without ever feeling resentful of it. There's a lot of process that feels like box-ticking, and inevitably the world-changing thesis in your mind at the beginning of the journey eventually crystallises into something less dramatic but more real. I've had a few of these moments and I'm only half way through.

    Ceremonies make me choke up, too. My mum is graduating this summer and I just know I will cry!

    Reply
  35. ALeks
    May 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm (7 years ago)

    No Elisabeth,I meant it is for some people good to hear them self,(maybe it is good for you too), in the first place, saying it out loud or writing things down which bother them,making them feel in doubt with them self.Thats what I understand out of your writing here,you doubt your actions,call yourself a slug and other not nice names!!You are free entirely to write and say what ever it pleases you on your blog!
    What ever you need to bring you to a goal you want to achieve,and if you put it on line like this you create more space for interaction with us and in the same time you give your self what you need! Do you ask on this way for support in difficult times from your bloging fellows or not? Shall I write this in Dutch to make myself clear? I wish you all the best in this world Elisabeth!Good day to you!

    Reply
  36. Ces
    May 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm (7 years ago)

    I have no advice. I find your writing style interesting and captivating. You would be the kind of person I can sit down with at a coffee shop and talk and I will just listen, enthralled by your stories. I love rituals. They comfort me. I cried on my children's first day in school. I cried when my son and daughter graduated from kindergarten.

    Reply
  37. SE'LAH...
    May 2, 2010 at 9:11 pm (7 years ago)

    Procrastination is just a prolonged moment of reflection, isn't it? lol.

    Finally got a moment to stop by for a visit. Hope you are enjoying your weekend. one love.

    Reply
  38. Christine
    May 2, 2010 at 10:31 pm (7 years ago)

    I was not altogether offended by notions of blogging 'drivel' nor wasting time in slug mode in the face of a thesis.But if you feel you are writing drivelthen maybe it is time to review that writing and the purpose of your blog. But I read it in relation to your despair about the thesis..
    and working one's way up to writing the damn thing, and presenting it in whatever form you end up doing. It is an act of discipline.It's hard. The playing and experimenting is over. An act of aloneness. For this is the time you are presenting your own thoughts and your original research. For evaluation. And with the question whether it will be accepted by your superiors. All else fades for a while.Perhaps this is behind your words, now?

    During the last months of my epic a friend of mine read a passage from some book in which the protaganist was reflecting on HIS thesis writing. He was at the stage in which every second of the day was counted. Every second away from the thesis was wasting time. Eating, sleeping, washing, etc was time away from the thesis. Laughable, I know, but PhD thesis writing is like no other exercise you will do.I often reflected on this passage when I was in the midst of it.

    I would not take too much notice of exhortations that would have you restrict your creativity in the face of examiners. I get irritated by comments about 'giving the examiners what they want'. Be guided by your supervisor whose job it is to help you through. That person should have a strong sense of where matters can be stretched or not…It is about reality though.You need to show that you understand the area in which you are working. You also have to recognise that the task now is to pass and then you are free to do what you wish. You are learning a new discipline, receiving a new training.

    BTW Have you ever read the late Greg Dening's thoughts on thesis writing? He was a historian who clearly delighted in any sort of form or creative presentation away from the norm but also noted that this had to be done with consciousness. Scholarship, he said, can be demonstrated in a number of ways, not just through a literature review and the usual boring structures of such work. Much of his later work was without the infernal footnotes… although I don't think I am as experienced enough, nor have knowledge enough to get away with that. Also have a look at this paper by Inga Clendinnen she writes about the passions of the researcher 'until you come to write'…http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-Sept-1996/clendinnen.html

    BTW Have you ever watched a slug move? And how they squish themselves down so as to disappear through the cracks in the wall from whence they came? They can move fast, those critters. We used to have slugs partying in our house at night-times. If we were up at dawn they were usually at the last phase of the night before but quickly disappeared leaving only a series of silver trails threaded through the carpet. We filled those cracks in the end… I sort of miss them .

    Reply
  39. Jesse
    May 3, 2010 at 6:04 am (7 years ago)

    I had a teacher who said the same thing, and it always baffles me. I know I ought not to say 'people like you…' as if you are some how incredible, but I cannot help thinking it from time to time and sometimes it is necessary to be reminded that you must be doubted along with all other things. Still, it only makes me like you the better.

    I like your story about quitting television. It makes sense in the way that quitting smoking does.

    There was, for me, a less positive attempt to prevent procrastination. I decided to quit writing. Quit being creative, because I knew I just used it as procrastination. That was a very bad choice. Writing stories and poems and blogging for me is a moment where I can be a bit free. I think blogging must be the same thing for you, and I really do hope you continue because I very much enjoy your blog. Now I look at the structure of my studies as a way to encourage what I enjoy doing. If I had nothing to do I would do nothing, but sometimes the products of creativity are wonderful.

    You make comments about your thesis but it only occurs now that I do not know exactly what it is about. I wonder if there is a way to avoid what you are feeling now. I am terrified of having to write my thesis for that reason. I can hardly write an essay! How will I ever manage? But I suppose if we did not expect so much we would be very different people.

    Reply
  40. Elizabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 7:14 am (7 years ago)

    It sounds like you're being very hard on yourself and to what end? Maybe it's as simple as "you're done" and even a tiny bit of boredom? Somehow, having to do something is different from actually doing something, if you know what I mean.

    I loved your description of your emotions when you witness rituals. I don't look on that as sentimentality but rather an appropriate response to something that is more collective than solitary. There's something about witnessing — anything, really, with others that makes me teary.

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 11:01 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Persiflage. The idea of a hunter circling her prey is intriguing. It has an aggressive ring which resonates for me because I have to be forceful in this endeavor particularly when I feel most feeble. Thanks for your encouragement.

    Thanks, Cuban. I often wonder why it needs to be so polarised: the so called academic versus the layman's view.

    I think that there is room for the dense elite language of academia but I don't think it should be requirement of academic success. It's not as far as I know, as far as I can see at least within the English department at my university but still I worry. It's inevitable I suppose.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 11:04 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Rachel. I thought you might identify with my struggle given you're in the middle of it, too.

    And your mum graduates later this year. How lovely.

    Once upon a time such things would never happen: parents and children studying in tandem. I think it's wonderful. Congratulations to your mum.

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 11:12 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Aleks. I think I understand now. I would probably need my mother to translate for me were you to write in Dutch. My Dutch is not so good. I can understand a little but not enough to make sense of your meaning here. But I understand that you are not irritated with me, which I had feared.

    I have experienced some negative responses to my writing in the past, not on my blog but elsewhere. I am sensitive therefore to being misunderstood. Aren't we all?

    Thanks, Aleks, for your perseverance. I'm sorry that I do not write more to you on Face Book where you are very active, but I find I can only manage my blog at the moment. If I were to include Face Book I would never get my thesis finished, but I always see what you have posted on Face Book and I enjoy it very much. It's not that I am uninterested, it's just that I do not often comment.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 11:16 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Ces. We could have good conversations in that coffee shop, couldn't we? And not just you listening to my stories but me listening to yours.

    I'd love to see your art work face to face as well and meet your lovely children.

    And thanks to you, Se'Lah, for dropping by. It's am interesting thought procrastination as reflection.

    People have different takes on procrastination. Some see it as a negative impulse whereas others, like you, cast it in a more positive light. Thanks.

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 11:51 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Christine. Your words resonate, particularly these:

    'I read it in relation to your despair about the thesis..
    and working one's way up to writing the damn thing, and presenting it in whatever form you end up doing. It is an act of discipline.It's hard. The playing and experimenting is over. An act of aloneness.'

    I see it this way, too. I think I was trying to write my way into that despair.

    I had not wanted to implicate blogging or my fellow bloggers. We all try so hard in our various ways to communicate as best we can, as Bonnie says. And sometimes without the benefit of actual voice, tone and face to fave gestures we can misunderstand one another.

    Of all the posts I've ever delivered on my blog, this one has troubled me most of all. But it has also been helpful I think in the process of moving along.

    As for Greg Denning, he's one of my heroes. I was so sad when he died. I had wanted to meet him. I tried to arrange for him to run one of his famous creative workshops for us here in Melbourne but he was too sick by the time I approached him.

    I have read the article to which you refer but not the Inga Clendinning. Thanks for the link. I look forward to reading it.

    And thanks again for your generous and thoughtful words. I'm very grateful.

    Reply
  46. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Jesse.

    I suspect that I blog for much the same reason as you. Blogging offers a certain freedom, if only the illusion of freedom, to write in a way that allows me to express myself without the usual constraints of academia and of life generally.

    This is not to say that there are no constraints in blogging. There are always constraints.

    We cannot write – or at least publish – willy nilly. We cannot publish self indulgently or else no one will bother to read us.

    Writing needs to have some resonance for readers. It needs to be inclusive of others.

    Early in my blogging career, way back when I started this blog in 2006, I mentioned my thesis whose topic was and still at this stage is 'Theories of autobiography Life writing and the desire for revenge'.

    Put briefly, I argue that the experience of trauma and loss gives rise to mixed emotions, including those of shame and a desire for revenge, emotions that, when harnessed, can become powerful triggers towards creativity and the need to find a voice in life writing.

    Not only life writing, of course, but I have to restrict myself. It could include art and fiction and all manner of creative endeavour but for my purposes creative/life writing is enough.

    Thanks again, Jesse, for your refreshing thoughts.

    I have you in mind, given your latest hurdle – and that's an understatement. I really appreciate your response here. My grizzles seem so trivial.

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  47. Elisabeth
    May 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Elizabeth. I think I understand what you mean by the difference between 'having to do and doing' and yes, you're right I can be hard on myself.

    That said, I'm grateful for your comment here and pleased to hear that you, too, share my response to rituals. They are collective moments, as you say and not simply sentimental.

    Thanks again, Elizabeth.

    Reply
  48. ALeks
    May 4, 2010 at 12:51 am (7 years ago)

    OK than,I hope you will find your way one day again to my 3 blogs,which I keep full of beautiful poetry ,visuals and music! I was injured in bike accident lately so I could not be that active on them or on facebook. I wish you good luck Elisabeth,what ever you want,remember! Thank you for your kind words.Bye,bye!

    Reply
  49. Reader Wil
    May 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm (7 years ago)

    Oh dear! That's a lot of reading to do! I am afraid I have little time to do so. I must organize a lot for my daughter's stay! Thanks for your visit and yes, it was the Canadian army that liberated our country. The British were somewhere else. Never mind they were allies.

    Reply
  50. Mare Biddle
    May 4, 2010 at 10:47 pm (7 years ago)

    Hi Elisabeth ~

    It's so easy for me to pronounce one type of writing as more worthwhile than another. I do it every day. "I should be writing plays." If I'm writing plays, "I should be writing a full-length/ one-act/ 10-min play." Choosing whichever form I'm not writing at the moment. Followed of course by, "I should be working on the novel." Then followed by, "Who am I kidding I can't write anything – except – well, I'm pretty good at writing business letters. Perhaps I should get a job… " 🙂 Ugh, every day.

    And then I'm fortunate enough to come across another writer's momentary lapse into self-loathing or at the very least self-doubt, and I am instantly credentialed. I belong. I am a writer. And by the end of their post, I may even believe I could be a good writer. One day. If I keep at it.

    I have a post brewing for tomorrow, and I think I'll link to this post. The best I can do sometimes when I'm sure I can't write – like this morning – is to put myself in the "space" of it. More on that tomorrow.

    Reply
  51. Elisabeth
    May 5, 2010 at 10:58 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Reader Wil. I'm sorry my posts tend to be fairly long. Thanks for alerting me to the Canadian army's role in liberating Holland and have a lovely time with your daughter and her family.

    Reply
  52. Elisabeth
    May 5, 2010 at 11:01 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Mare. I'm glad my post resonated for you. It's so hard to get this writing business right.

    Self loathing is a feature of course and from time to time most of us indulge it.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on this matter in your post tomorrow, which is our today. By all means link to mine.

    Reply
  53. Studio Sylvia
    May 6, 2010 at 1:34 pm (7 years ago)

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I believe that when one writes a post, one is writing in the moment, that is, delivering the passion, the doubt, the questioning, that one feels at the precise time one is touching the key board. One may not necessarily think within the same parameters in another moment in time. You have been writing your thesis for a while, with passion. As the end is approaching, the self offering and the passion would surely decline, a catharsis of sorts. Maybe burn out. Would it necessarily be procrastination? I don't believe so. I hooe this makes sense.

    Reply
  54. Elisabeth
    May 8, 2010 at 11:49 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Sylvia, for your thoughtful comment here.

    I agree with you about the stuff of blog writing for the moment from a particular frame of mind and that this can change over time.

    You can see that in other people's posts – one day up, the next day down. We're all like this, or at least most of us are.

    As for your comment about my thesis, I agree with you again, and just to prove the point, I've had a better day today and no longer do I feel as slug-like as I felt when I wrote this post here on procrastination.

    Thanks again, Sylvia.

    Reply

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